After more than $50,000 worth of shoplifted merchandise vanished from store shelves, Central Florida supermarkets were left to wonder how that shoplifting loss could happen. It certainly wasn’t Oogie-Boogie from The Nightmare Before Christmas absconding with cartloads of merchandise from the Winn-Dixie or Publix. More likely, it was an organized retail crime ring (ORC) from Central Florida who targeted many high-priced goods such as Gillette Razors, Crest White Strips, and other theft in stores.
Fortunately, security camera footage eventually revealed the coordinated thievery, which led to the arrests of five suspects. In a recent interview, Robert Moraca, vice president of loss prevention for the National Retail Federation (NRF) pointed out that “Crime rates in some regions go up almost double around the holidays and unfortunately retailers see heightened occurrences of theft, fraud and shoplifting.” He went on to say that between the holidays of Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, retail thefts go up “exponentially.” He also said shoplifting costs retailers $30 billion annually and that a September survey by the NRF showed 97 percent of retailers contacted believed they were victims of organized retail crime within the last year. Almost half reported a “significant” increase in such crimes.
In response to this growing concern, in 2013, Governor Rick Scott signed a bill that strengthened penalties for organized retail crime. The legislation requires a minimum sentence of 21 months for those convicted of retail theft totaling more than $50,000.
Britt Beemer, chairman of the retail-polling company America’s Research Group, had this to say. “I really feel the courts look at these cases at victim-less crimes when really that isn’t the case. These criminals get a slap on the wrist and go right back to stealing until they’re caught again. And you know who pays for their thefts? The consumers do with retailers who are forced to raise their prices.”
Authorities said members of the suspect’s group entered store after store — one going inside, another acting as a lookout in a vehicle — and walked out with $200 to nearly $1,000 worth of goods at a time. In one day they were able to execute their operation at supermarkets and drugstores in Mount Dora, The Villages, Tavares, Apopka and Orlando, leaving with more than $3,200 worth of products, according to police.
Among other charges, the State Attorney’s Office filed racketeering and grand-theft counts against the group.